Stings may hurt men like Sam Allardyce, but we can’t help watching them fall into the trap
Admit it. Does the blood in your veins not course through that teensy bit quicker? Does the heart not start pumping more beats per minute and do the hairs on your arms not rise to attention?
You know it does, every time you wake up and plug into that smartphone, or turn on the TV, and see or hear the words “sting operation”.
Oh the thrill of it. Another member of a gilded upper-class done up good and proper, and brought down to earth where you, we, all are.
It happened on Tuesday morning when the Daily Telegraph in England published the first part of what it promises to be a comprehensive investigation into corruption in football.
It began that with a sting operation, in which the stung was Sam Allardyce, the England manager.
This is not the column to get into the details of what Allardyce has said — suffice to say, the operation can claim to have exposed him behaving in a manner that some might find unbecoming from a man in his position.
Compelling arguments have been laid out to support his dismissal by the English Football Association, barely two months into his tenure (Twitter did not disappoint, unleashing #thingsthatlastedlongerthanbigsam).
Other notables, in lesser numbers, have countered.
Sure, he did not cover himself in glory but it was not, perhaps, his conduct that warranted him having to leave the role. He did not actually do anything wrong. A slap on the wrist, a big fine, a visit to the naughty corner, and let’s move on.
That debate has its space. Far more intriguing are the disturbing urges within us, the watchers, which are satisfied by such stings.
We are, after all, peeping into a private interaction in which the instigator is laying out a trap for the prey to fall into and then letting us — actually imploring us — to watch.
It is little creepy even if, as can and has been argued, that it is often in the public interest for this to be public.
It arguably was in Allardyce’s case, as it was in infamous stings that felled Sven Goran-Eriksson’s case, or the three Pakistani cricketers found guilty of spot-fixing.
Ultimately, what we are watching is the fall of a man, and not just the fall, but the preceding steps he has taken to it, steps by which he has been made to look especially stupid, or careless, or greedy.
It is not even the point that ultimately he falls, as Allardyce has — indeed that is often just the punctuation, or the After Eight to the meal.
It is the thrill of watching him walk into it, knowing there is no escape thereafter.
Just a few days before, the trial of the most infamous stinger of all, journalist Mazher Mahmood, had begun. He is facing charges of perverting the course of justice in a sting on a pop star. Mahmood, notoriously secretive, walked into court with his face hidden under a blue parka.
Once in 2011, during an International Cricket Council hearing in Doha into the Pakistani spot-fixing scandal, I was sat in his vicinity in a hotel cafe without knowing he was even there. He appeared at the hearing, spoke and disappeared.
This case, and Mahmood in general, represents a murkier flip side to stings.
For one, by disguising himself as a subcontinent businessman, or fronting a Far Eastern syndicate, was he inadvertently revealing a degree of xenophobia, even racism, in some of his victims — a dodgy foreigner, this says, is a far more believable trope to dupe someone.
There is also a fine ethical line to tread, between a deeper investigation and the outright entrapment of a victim.
Mahmood is in trouble now, but his successes in sports alone — he was behind the stings of Eriksson, former Pakistan captain Salim Malik and the Lord’s trio — suggest they were worth it, no matter how disturbing they come across as.
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Published: September 28, 2016 04:00 AM